Vanity Galleries Charging Thousands to “Exhibit” Work

New warning to photographers and artists about vanity galleries scam: Internet Scambusters #802

“Vanity galleries” — it’s the perfect term to describe online and brick-and-mortar sites that offer to “exhibit” your photographs and art for a fee.

They play on individuals’ desires to be recognized for their creative work — and their willingness to pay for it.

Photographers are the latest creative group to be targeted by dubious gallery operators, sometimes being charged thousands of dollars and often with a disappointing outcome, as we explain in this week’s issue.

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And now for the main feature…


Vanity Galleries Charging Thousands to “Exhibit” Work


Photographers have joined the list of creative freelancers being targeted to pay to display their work.

In the past, we’ve written about fake poetry and prose writing competitions and publications that charge for submissions.

The same goes for art shows, listings in directories and even, in one case, being invited to speak at an event then being told to pay for the privilege.

All of these activities appeal to people’s natural vanity — the desire to show the rest of the world what they’re good at.

In the latest trick, photographers are being invited to exhibit at what one professional described as “vanity galleries.”

The photographer, Mathieu Stern, received an invitation to display his work at a London gallery, but when he checked out the gallery’s website he noticed that the photos displayed were all of poor or average quality.

Exhibitors were being asked to pay up to $1,000 to put work on display both at the gallery and on its website. Stern didn’t take the bait.

According to Michael Zhang, editor of photo blog site PetaPixel, other photographers who actually paid to have their work “exhibited” felt they’d been duped.

“The problem is that since these vanity galleries make their money directly from the photographers and artists up front, they have no incentive to select high-quality work that will sell,” says Zhang.

“They also have no incentive to help promote the photographer’s work and sell it, since they would simply be spending additional time, money, and resources.”

Furthermore, as Zhang notes, serious photographers and critics know of the reputation of these vanity galleries and never visit them anyway, so the people who “pay to play” don’t even get the visibility they want.

His views are echoed by artists’ coach Renee Phillips:

“Artists don’t always recognize the warning signs as I do. As a result, I know of many artists who tell me they have lost money, self-respect, time and dignity from making the wrong choices. My warning is beware of Vanity Galleries.”

Phillips says that in recent years she’s seen a big increase in vanity galleries, especially in New York. They often charge much more — up to $20,000 — to show the artist’s work and “represent” them.

She adds: “Whether these galleries cleverly label their fees ‘representation’ or ‘promotion’ or blatantly charge by the linear foot, there are others that simply resell services at a high markup. Or they place other costly demands on the artists.”

These “galleries” are skilled manipulators, exploiting artists’ and photographers’ earnest ambitions to succeed in their chosen creative sphere.

Often, they directly approach the creatives by finding them on the Internet and sending out what seem to be personalized invitations to participate.

Okay to Pay?

So, is it ever okay to pay to exhibit your work, whether as an artist or photographer?

Yes, says Phillips — when you belong to a cooperative non-profit group where all the members or participants share the expenses for renting the display area and mounting exhibitions.

She also says she knows a few artists who don’t regret paying to exhibit at a vanity gallery. If it’s all about ego appeal — as it often also is with vanity book publishing — that may be okay for some.

For the rest of us, Phillips recommends researching a gallery’s reputation before even considering paying.

“Contact several artists who have already shown there in the past and ask them if they would recommend it and why they are no longer associated with the gallery,” she advises.

“Conduct a thorough search on the Internet for the name of the gallery and the individuals listed as the owners/directors/associates of the venue.”

The same advice would apply to photographers.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are my true motives in wanting to exhibit with this particular gallery?
  • What incentive is there for the gallery to promote or sell your work?
  • Has the gallery attracted any attention from recognized experts or critics?
  • Can the gallery provide testimonials from past exhibitors?

“If you want to proceed anyway, consider negotiating with them,” Phillips suggests.

“Ask them to decrease or eliminate the fee and work on commission only. You have leverage if you have a proven track record of sales, credentials, and/or an impressive mailing list or press contacts.”

Check out this comprehensive list of pay-to-participate galleries.  (Note: We can’t vouch for the list’s accuracy and we do not imply that galleries on the list are involved in scamming.)

Read Phillips’ full article: Beware of Vanity Galleries.

Alert of the Week

Cable and satellite TV providers constantly warn of scammers who pose as company reps, with a variety of tricks aimed at stealing money and personal information.

In recent weeks, the crooks have been pretending to be from satellite provider Dish, phoning to offer victims a supposed discount on their subscription.

In order to qualify for the discount, usually set at a realistic sounding sum like $15 a month, the victim has to agree to a set-top box software update for which they’re supposed to pay a lump sum of around $150.

The crook tells his victim to switch their receiver off and on again, which makes the update seem genuine because the receiver has to go through a routine that looks like it’s updating.

Here’s the skinny: TV providers don’t charge for updates, which usually happen automatically anyway. So, don’t pay. You were never going to get a discount. Just hang up.

Time to close today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!